IF there is one team sport that has the potential to put the Philippines into the world’s elite, it should be Rugby Football.
Rugby is the fastest-growing team sport in the world. The game is played like the American football, sans the bulging protective pads and heavy, oversized helmets.
Its rising popularity in Europe and Australia could rival that of basketball and cricket.
It’s good to note, though, that here in Asia, the Philippines is among the first countries to take on the sport. Thanks to the Filipino expatriates abroad, their children of mixed race have brought the sport here and are making their country proud.
Meet the national rugby team, also known as the Philippine Volcanoes.
Just like the Philippine Azkals in soccer, the Volcanoes are composed mostly of Fil-foreign talents. Such program is somewhat justified as the players were culled from various international semi-pro leagues from around the world and were brought here to give instant success to the Philippines’ campaign.
“We have an edge in skills, because the players have an access to high-level training of our respective pro teams. We brought those trainings together and that worked tremendously to our advantage,” said Japan-based player Justin Villazo Coveney, whose mother hails from Bataan.
As in the case of the Volcanoes, they are now consistently hovering in the top five in Asia with, among others, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The Volcanoes are one-time gold and silver medalists in the Southeast Asian Games and are looking to top the region again in the coming Southeast Asian Games in Singapore.
The last five years proved to be successful for the Volcanoes as they attained their highest achievement yet by piercing the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow in 2013.
“The Volcanoes are recognized in the world stage. The Filipinos are in good standing in this sport and that we should develop more athletes to continue our success and achieve more,” said Matt Cullen, director for Rugby of the Philippine Rugby Football Union.
The Volcanoes are now very excited to show their mettle in front of their countrymen as they compete in the Division 1 of the Asian Rugby Championship on May 6 and 9 at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Seven of the 30 members of the team arrived early for the four-team tournament and visited the 20,000-seater, world-class venue owned by the religious group Iglesia Ni Cristo.
Aside from Coveney, those who came ahead of their teammates are Matthew Orag Belleme, Benjamin Priagola Medie, Jake Robrigado Letis, Steve Pagtalunan Howorth, Chris Ammayao Tlettel and Ashely Matias Heward.
“The INC community is very excited to see our Volcanoes in action. This is our first time to host an international sporting event and our kababayans will surely come in full force to support our team,” said lawyer Bong Teodoro of the Maligaya Development Corporation, the construction outfit that manages the 70-hectare Ciudad de Victoria that houses the Stadium.
The world-class facility is also home to the 20,000 seater Philippine basketball arena and the soon-to-rise Philippine Sports Center, where there will be an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a multi-purpose gymnasium.
Engr. Bessie Fetalvero, also of Maligaya Development, said a shopping mall, promenade park, residential houses and a big transport terminal will be erected to complete the three-year master development plan for the project.
Cullen, who joined the Volcanoes in inspecting the venue, said: ‘It’s just amazing. I’ve been to different places and it’s great to know that the Philippine Stadium is comparable with the bests in the world.”
In the coming Asian tournament, the Volcanoes get to test Singapore in the afternoon of May 6, following the tussle between Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan.
On the second day of the tourney on May 9, the loser of match 1 and match 2 meet for third place, while the winners take on each other for the championship.
Formerly known as the Asian 5 Nations tournament, the 15-a-side event was restructured into what is now, bringing the Elite division from the top five countries down to three. Perennial powerhouse teams Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea are tops in the Elite Division while No. 4 and 5 teams Philippines and Sri Lanka are in the Division 1.
While the Division I champion will not be promoted to the Elite Division just yet, it earns the right to challenge the bottom-placed Elite Division team at the conclusion of the ARC.
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